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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Waller

The Struggle to Take PTO

You know how it goes.

You talk with friends about going on an exciting getaway, you think about how you should really make time to visit your older relatives, and you dream about how nice it would be to visit that friend you haven't seen in years- but you sigh and file those thoughts away. The thoughts that are louder in your mind say, "there is no way you can take time off with all of the projects you're juggling" or "everything will fall apart if you step back". So you don't and you wonder, "who has time to take a break?!".

Well, the answer is we all do.

But, it's more complicated than that.

We all know people who seem to always be taking time away from work, visiting beautiful places, and making frustratingly beautiful memories, but we also all know people who have weeks upon weeks saved up of PTO. And, while there is nothing wrong with being a hard-working and dedicated professional, it seems that many feel unable to step away from their work. A study found that only 23% of American workers take the time off that they are allotted each year, and 9% use no time off at all. (CNBC)

In 2019, American workers left a record 768 million days of vacation on the table, up nearly 10% from the year before, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association. (CNBC)

Obviously, this is a huge problem.

It's undeniable that our society feeds a culture of burnout, focusing more on productivity and results than employees wellbeing and happiness. Yet, at some point- we kind of bought in. We downloaded our work email onto our phones, stopped leaving when the day was done, pushed aside our personal hobbies/interests, and started feeling hesitant about taking time off. We noticed that the people who kept moving up the ladder were the ones who sacrificed everything to do so, and we decided that was the only way to be successful.

But, is it really true that you have to choose between taking care of yourself and success?

The truth is:

Taking care of yourself and absolutely crushing it in your professional role ARE NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, they are each other's yin and yang.

The likelihood of people experiencing burnout symptoms -such as fatigue, low motivation, feelings of self-doubt or failure, and low mood- tends to increase when they feel overworked, under-appreciated, and stuck. And do you know one thing that makes people feel overworked, under-appreciated, and stuck? Not feeling like they have time to be a person outside of work.

So, I have 3 questions for you and I'm asking that you rate your level of discomfort around them (on a scale of 1-10, 10 being extreme discomfort):

  1. How do you feel about scheduling 1 day off for yourself in the next month?

  2. How do you feel about scheduling 3 days off for yourself in the next month?

  3. How do you feel about taking a full week off for yourself in the next month?

If you rated your discomfort above a 5 for any of these questions- explore that.

  • What are some of the things you tell yourself about taking time off that may not be serving you?

  • What is the worst possibly outcome of you taking time off? What is the best possible outcome? What is the likely outcome?

  • If it is not an option to travel, what would you like to do for yourself or get done around home that you haven't had time for?

You are doing an amazing job- don't forget to take care of yourself!


Meredith Waller MSW, LCSW

Based in Boulder, CO and offering online counseling throughout Colorado

-Certified Shame-Informed Treatment Specialist

-Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional


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